6 Things That Blew My F*****g Mind – 3\ Intelligence in evolution

Thinking is weird and doesn’t make much sense. It also kinda sucks.

 

What is it?

 

I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal. – Rust Cohle, True Detective

I could pretty much end this section right there. But I won’t. The first bit is especially important. How did human consciousness evolve? I think intelligence is the single most defining trait of our species and what truly differentiates man from beast. But we have very little understanding of what makes us intelligent or how cognition or metacognition works. By all accounts, it really doesn’t make much sense to me.

The way I understand it, the theory of evolution posits that an organism exists as part of a species of similar organisms. These organisms are in the majority the same, but often have variations of various traits. Height, weight, dong size, whatever.

Darwin proposed that evolution occurs when there is a change in the homeostasis of the environment such that some members of this species die off. The members with traits that are least favored in this new environment die off and are unable to propagate their gene pool. Members with favorable traits continue to propagate their genes. Over a long enough timeline, this natural selection will result in an organism so different from its ancestral organism that we would say it of a different species.

A few points I must note here.

One is that there is often a common misconception that species evolve to something, as in there is a progression. This is not the case. Natural selection is at the whims of the changing environment. A species will evolve to what fits, it will evolve as to what is practical for survival, not according to what we believe is better or worse.

Along with this notion is that man has stopped evolving. If evolutionary theory is a feedback loop between a species and its environment, as long as there is evidence that the environment is changing you can be sure that the species will be selected to adapt. You may immediately think of climate change, but a more obvious, observable example is how scavengers like raccoons have adapted to manmade cities (a recent phenomenon in a geologic sense of time). If this can happen to raccoons it can happen to man.

We are not above nature.

A second, mostly historical, point is that Darwin was not significant for proposing the Theory of Evolution as it had been offered before his Origin of Species. The commonly cited example is Lamarck’s Theory of Evolution, but I have been told that there were ancient Persian scholars and even a Greek Antiquity philosopher that proposed a similar theory. Darwin was unique in that he proposed a mechanism, natural selection, that seemed feasible and could be validated with archeological evidence.

A third point is that a scientific theory is different from your garden variety, colloquial use of the word. We generally in day to day conversations tend to use theory to mean guess, but in the scientific world it must adhere to a stricter definition. A scientific theory must be falsifiable and supported by evidence or data.

And finally, the phrase “survival of the fittest” is often said in conjunction with evolution. This is generally taken to mean the survival of the strongest, smartest, fastest, etc (and is the definition supported by the crock of shit known as Social Darwinism). That is not what is meant by that statement. Fittest here means literally what traits are most fit to its environment. It might paradoxically mean that being smaller and slower are actually the most valuable traits for surviving in a certain type of environment.

So with all of this in mind (and it is a lot), let’s recap:

We as human beings possess intelligence unrivaled by any other creature on earth.

Evolutionary theory tells us that traits are selected and passed down via natural selection.

So these are the questions that blows my mind:

What situation could’ve have naturally selected for hyper-intelligence in early primates and evolved into man?

Could this once naturally occurring situation be constructed again and would it make similar selections in other animals?

 

The lesser version: Fermi Paradox

 

The story goes that Enrico Fermi, nuclear physicist extraordinaire, was having lunch with a couple of physicist friends and were discussing a spat of UFO sightings. After a while the conversation took another turn, but Fermi was still thinking about the previous topic and blurted, out of the blue,

“Where are they?”

This is often proposed as a bone-chilling question. The idea is that there are so many billions of galaxies and so many billions of stars that there should be, hypothetically one would foster intelligent life that has developed a more advanced civilization than ours.

If the statistical probability of life is so high in an infinite universe, where then are all the aliens?

 

Why this thought experiment is more interesting

 

This is another case where it’s not so much that the Fermi Paradox is uninteresting but more so that I think the question of evolution’s role in our intellect is just more interesting.

I should just say, before I get into it, I’m not offering this question as a reason to dispute evolution. Nor to affirm it in some ironclad way. I’m just trying to follow one thread of thought and see where it goes.

Fermi’s Paradox really is interesting in terms of posited theories to try to answer his question. Maybe aliens aren’t that advanced. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’re among us. Maybe they’ve answered but we don’t know how to interpret or understand their signals. Like a man trying to talk exclusively though walkie-talkie when everyone has iPhone Xs.

These are all interesting ways to question our place in the universe, but these proposed answers really could just as easily be answers to questions about why uncontacted human tribes refuse to engage with “civilized” humans. These answers are really more about our capacity to communicate.

Some of the proposed answers to Fermi’s Paradox deal more with our future development as a species and our collective future in the universe. These answers really discuss the level of sophistication of theoretical alien civilizations, like maybe alien civilizations have infrastructure developed in other parts of the universe and Earth is just backwater, hillbilly town to them. Maybe intelligent alien life is colonial and destroys other intelligent life. Maybe intelligent life destroys itself before it gets the chance.

These questions reflect our views of ourselves and civilization. These answers are more interesting, but again are rather commonplace in the dialogue or sociology or anthropology and more sci-fi extensions of these more down to earth professions.

If Fermi’s Paradox asks what could happen to us and where would that leave us, my question is what did happen to us that left us here?

Most answers about where human intellect came from tend to focus on evolutionary scenarios that could have resulted in large brains or more connections in our brain. But focusing on hardware alone isn’t going to provide a satisfactory solution. Why didn’t other animals undergo similar changes in neurophysiology? Why has that left them intellectually where they are and boosted us where we are?

I think the answer is in software and not hardware. One other thing unique to mankind is our use of language, in an advanced sense with grammar and abstraction whereas animals have a limited sense. We tend to think of language as following cognition, but what if it is the other way? What if selection for humans with deeper communication skills created a higher use of language that then allowed for more complex thought?

So then the question becomes what naturally occurring scenario would select for human beings that communicate better with each other and again, why hasn’t that occurred in other animals? One is tempted to say that as a social species man requires a closer bond with fellow man in order to survive, but that is also true of other social creatures like wolves and elephants. But notice that wolves and elephants tend to be on the higher end of the intelligence scale (relative to other animals I mean).

Both Fermi’s Paradox and the Intelligence Question deal with similar themes of the role of communication and our species’ sense of identity, but from wildly different points of view. I find that the Intelligence Question strikes me harder and I find it more disconcertingly immediate than the Fermi Paradox. But no matter.

The Truth Is Out There.

2 thoughts on “6 Things That Blew My F*****g Mind – 3\ Intelligence in evolution

  1. As a note of interest, Nic Pizzolatto got many of his ideas and some of his language directly from Thomas Ligotti. That particular quote is an expression of Ligotti’s writings. And Ligotti got those ideas from Peter Wessel Zapffe. It is philosophical pessimism and, oddly, Zappfe had an influence on deep ecology.

    I’m not sure how it relates to your post. I just like to think about connections of ideas and how they spread. From a personal perspective, philosophical pessimism does resonate with me. But I don’t have a strong opinion exactly. But I do have strong view on the relationship of language to consciousness.

    Like

    1. I too have seen True Detective 🙂 AS a side note, I’ve seen a few of your comments recently. I’m glad you are interested in what I write and I appreciate the likes. I don’t use wordpress very much these days, but I’ll try to check in once in a while to see what you’ve written. But thanks again for your engagement, it doesn’t go unnoticed 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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